In a previous guise, Lost Film Foundations’ frontman created some of the most gut-wrenching, heart-on-sleeve moments anyone could hope to set to music.
From the twisted, macabre carnival of The Pros and Cons of Eating Out through to the starker sounds of Waiting for the Post-Man, Lupen Crook matched his medium to his message with enviable ease.
Shortly after putting the Lupen Crook project to bed, a new venture emerged in the form of The Parade or, as it became, Lost Film Foundation. The aim, at first, was to strip everything back. “simple, Christian chords” would be the order of the day with band members learning their instruments as they played them. Old school.
Matt Kilda, as he is now known, has had a history of embracing such a back-to-basics approach. He is, after all, the singer-songwriter who recorded his first demos on a Fisher Price tape recorder in Chatham’s Pentagon Shopping Centre.
And he is the same singer-songwriter who, midway through recording his first album as Lupen Crook, turned his back on expensive recording studios and session musicians in favour of a rawer, lower-fi sound. This is also the artist whose finest, most gut-wrenchingly poignant record (the aforementioned Waiting…) emerged from the confines of a series of home recordings.
But there has always been something about Lupen Crook/Matt Kilda that has strained against these self-imposed limitations. The Pros and Cons… was a riot of ghoulish colour, all complicated rhythms, innovative melodies and a brash middle finger salute to the world and his wife.
Even among his other records there has often been a clear restlessness with the stripped back ideology. He has too much of a creative, almost hyperactive mind to allow himself to be restrained too much.
And so it is with The Big Light, a retrospective album collecting together the songs of the already defunct Lost Film Foundation.
Because Lost Film Foundation’s music is rather more than just “Christian chords” and it displays a greater musicality than the original punk-ish aspiration of learning instruments on the hoof. The Sex Pistols playing ‘Kumbaya My Lord’, this is not.
It’s slicker than that: or rather, it’s as slick as an album can be while retaining an artsy sensibility, a gritty undercurrent. Kilda’s groaning baritone is matched perfectly by Jemimah Dean’s snarling vocals. And they are both set against a background of distorted guitars, grainy electronica and echoing pianos.
These may not be Christian chords, but whether it’s the expansive cacophony of ‘Bell of the Ball’, the anthemic overture of ‘Endless Ends’ or the hushed tones of ‘Alice Matters’, the sounds conjure up images of the ancient ruins of some Gothic monument to The Almighty.
As with anything Kilda puts his name(s) to, The Big Light is an outpouring of the soul.
It starts in gloomy form with a fear, on ‘Endless Ends’ that “I’m never gonna get a moment’s peace”. It’s a desperate attempt to believe that something – anything – good can come of a bad situation (“it’s not what you’ve lost but what is left”/“it’s what you’ve got not what you lack” run the trite mantras). But there’s something jarring here that suggests this is less a sure and certain hope; more the half-hearted, unbelieving wish of the broken, crushed and defeated.
From here the album unfolds, at times grim and glummer, at others flipping over to an essay in hedonistic denial: eating drinking and being merry – before succumbing to the inevitable.
It’s an album at war with itself. On the one side there is the allure of a “toxic kind of love” replete with cocaine, “holes in your arm” and destructive, dangerous relationships. “You only fall for the wild ones” as a line from ‘The Fall’ has it.
But, on the other hand, there is a restlessness and a desire for that elusive peace of the album opener. ‘A Night Like This’ asks “When are we gonna see the error of our ways?” while ‘(the big light)’ contains the simplest of aspirations:
Dream of a place for you and me
A tidy little hideaway
Where all your fears are kept at bay
This is all a far cry from one of the albums most heart-breakingly bleak moments. ‘Christmas Eve’, a father’s confessional farewell to his daughter stays just the right side of self-pity amid a spartan accompaniment:
I will lay where the fortune-tellers say,
“Now there was a man who could’ve tried a little harder and had more faith in himself,
Found the strength to walk away that day, but he could not help himself.”
Cautionary tales don’t come much more cautionary than that.
By the album’s end a feeling of peace does, remarkably seem to be within grasp. ‘Alice Matters’ is an open-hearted statement of a survivor’s gratitude, while the finale, ‘Greatest of Heights’, complete with a string accompaniment recalling Oasis’ ‘Whatever’, explores a similar theme:
You know the whole world’s gonna crash and crumble down sometime
Don’t worry my friends it’s gonna be just fine
Cos when it does, we will watch from the greatest of heights.
The half-hearted dreams of ‘Endless Ends’ have evolved into something better and more assured. Perhaps there is hope after all.
Amen to that.
You can buy your copy of (the big light) via Bandcamp.
Find out more about the Lupen Crook back catalogue (together with a load more Medway bands and artist) in Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.